Jules Witcover: Good thing Brazile’s scheme never came to pass
WASHINGTON — You may think politics in Washington is beyond the pale now. But imagine if Donna Brazile, the former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, had followed through on her notion of removing Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee in 2016 and replacing her with then-Vice President Joe Biden.
Brazile, in a newly published memoir, describes Clinton’s brief fainting spell and reported case of pneumonia during the campaign as grounds to depose her as the party nominee. The author writes that the DNC charter empowered her, in the event a nominee became disabled, to initiate a complicated removal process.
Even if Brazile had had the power to do so — which is highly questionable — greater chaos and bitterness would surely have resulted.
For starters, millions of voters yearning to put a woman in the Oval Office for the first time would have been outraged.
Secondly, the idea that a solitary party official, no matter how highly regarded, could substitute her judgment for the will of the electorate would have set Democrats aflame whether or not they had voted for Clinton in the primaries.
Finally, it is hard to see Biden, a party loyalist to the core, allowing himself to be so used. That was regardless of how much he admittedly still wanted to become president, how eminently qualified he was after nearly eight years in the vice presidency, and how beloved he remains among the Democratic flock.
In the end, however, Brazile apparently thought better of the whole scheme and abandoned it. “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her,” she wrote. “I could not do this to them.”
Much of the rest of the book cites her personal dissatisfaction with the way campaign staff members, including manager Robby Mook, treated her, and discusses what she describes as an impassive and lackadaisical pursuit of the presidency. Brazile also laments the cool treatment she received from the nominee.
Meanwhile, the man who defeated Clinton, Donald Trump, increasingly demonstrates his own disrespect and even disdain for the political norms of the American electoral process. Brazile’s notion of taking it upon herself to replace the prime pieces on the chess board seems particularly astonishing in retrospect, even if it was in the interest of enhancing her party’s chances of victory.
She also writes of replacing the 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, with Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey, a well-regarded African-American, apparently in the hope of strengthening the ticket’s appeal to that voting bloc.
More substantially, Brazile contends she was motivated by disdain over what she saw as Clinton’s control over party finances. She cites a joint fund-raising agreement between the DNC and the Clinton campaign in August 2015, long before the first Democratic primaries, that advantaged her over other contenders, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, while starving the DNC itself.
Brazile also argues she inherited a Democratic Party apparatus that was in disarray because of “three titanic egos” — President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and previous DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz — who “stripped the party to a shell for their own purposes.”
Such observations seem unlikely to enhance the party’s chances to put itself back on its feet after the 2016 political disaster, let alone give Brazile a significant role in the effort. However, she has become somewhat of a media star as an insider talking head on the political analysis television circuit.
To right their own ship, Democratic Party operatives currently appear to be relying heavily on President Trump’s falling poll numbers and on his failure to fulfill campaign promises.
They thus must focus on next fall’s midterm congressional elections to wrest control of the House and Senate. Only that will signify recovery from the defeat and the divisive aftermath of the Hillary Clinton candidacy, still the subject of an ongoing, bitter internal autopsy.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books.